Consider the Dominoes


It’s not that you’re too busy, or that you’re doing too much. You’re known for taking on challenges and doing the impossible.

You know your metrics. You take pride in your deadlines. You’ve built your name on striving, and you don’t like to let people down.

You rise with the dawn, fortified by coffee and Greek yogurt. You work until mid-evening, looking forward to the occasional Knob Creek manhattan before returning to make just a little more progress on your goals.

No, “getting shit done” isn’t your problem. You are the master of GSD.

You’ve become an expert in taking on more challenges and responsibilities. In fact, when you find yourself in trouble, you think the answer is to take on even more. You may be smart, but occasionally your genius fails you.

But you do have a real problem. To understand your problem, consider the dominoes.

Not the game of dominoes, but the act of stacking up dominoes from end to end. Ever do that? Stack them all up from one end of the table to another?

Here’s the thing about dominoes. You can stack a lot of them, and you can stack them close together. You can build the most epic set of dominoes the world has ever seen. You can be the M.C. Escher of dominoes, building them upside down, through the mouseholes, around the staircase and simultaneously out of the attic. Yeah.

But let’s not get distracted. There is a problem, after all.

The problem with your life is that your dominoes are stacked end-to-end. There is no room for error.

You, the evangelist of the unconventional, require absolute conformity from these dominoes. If one piece tips over, they all fall down.

If one domino out of a dozen decides to “live life on its own terms” or “create its own future,” you’re basically screwed.

This is the problem. If everything, absolutely everything, goes as planned, you’ll be okay. There’s no time to breathe, but who needs to breathe?

You’re like an astronaut, with the day fully scheduled. Your calendar and task list dictate where to go, who to talk to, and what to work on.

Once in a while you step out from your rocket ship and look at the sky. You think, Oh my God! The sky is so blue!

Once in a while you have a phone call with a friend for no reason other than having a phone call. Once in a while you take an afternoon off. You realize how refreshing this feels.

But then you get back to the dominoes, because that’s just what you do.

It’s not that you’re doing too much. Don’t worry about the people who tell you to take it easy. Most of them have no idea what you’re capable of.

But do worry about all those dominoes. All of them represent someone or something you care about. The real dominoes aren’t just pieces of plastic. They are people and projects that matter.

There might be one solution. You could remove some dominoes from the middle. Space them out more.

But that’s hard for you to do, because you like to pack them in. You want to see how many you can stack up.

So what will you do? Time will tell.

“A man who wants to do something will find a way; A man who doesn’t will find an excuse.” -Stephen Dolley, Jr.

Ah, but now you’re thinking of the dominoes again. Because that’s just how you think.


Note: I wrote this for myself. If it applies to you too, watch out for those dominoes.

Comments here.


Image: Wesley

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  • Melanie says:

    Now HERE’s a fabulously written post. Thank you CG.

  • Sylvia Lydia Moreloss says:

    04/14/14…7:58 a.m.

    I just read what you wrote. Personally, I live life one day at a time and go through or *around* the dominoes, and I make sure that they are not so tightly stacked. I am happier, *genuinely* happier nowadays. (I decided not to move back to San Diego. I want to go to school, and I’m thinking about going to school in Sacramento. I want to do something with multimedia, interactive creative SOMETHING. A while back I told someone that I wanted to “share my visions” with others. The dominoes that were stacked up I stacked on my own. I’m through with this now.) I always look forward to your posts which have prove to be inspiring time and again; I am a lot like you. I don’t see dominoes as too much of a problem in the foreseeable future, and I’m taking the bull by the horns. Financially I’m still in a struggle but things are looking up, nonetheless. DETRACTORS and HATERS are always around, but these are the type of people who will always be in one’s way no matter what, rooting for our downfall. Writing helps. I love your dominoes analogy. It’s how you think that matters too. I’m a thinker myself. I usually felt as though I were completing an obstacle course sometimes.

  • Jan Rhodes Norman says:

    This is perfect. Just where my head was at today! I am the Mistress of taking more on. I appreciate the reminder that the dominoes are people and projects that depend on me. The visual that made this really speak to me was a video I recently saw of the Seattle Public Library World Record Book Domino. . Thanks!

  • Anita Chase says:

    Very thought provoking post, Chris. I can relate to this – I have come to accept that no matter how overwhelmed I feel at some times, I feel more anxious when I’m not busy. However, sometimes I feel like I am missing out on some of the good parts in relationships and enjoying life because I’m trying to keep all the plates spinning. This gives me something more to ponder today…

  • Natalie - The Cat Lady Sings says:

    Must remember this the next time I stack too many dominos…

  • Natalie - The Cat Lady Sings says:

    Or dominoes, if I wanted to spell it correctly.

  • Astrid-Vera Schaffner says:

    We always write the things for ourselves, don’t we!

  • Diana says:

    So appropriate for today! Yes – the dominoes are stacked and yes – I’m pushing a few MORE in the empty spaces. On the other hand, I’m also taking three days to go kayaking at the end of this week “off.” I guess that works out!;-)

  • Andrew Brady says:

    A great metaphor and a great read, Chris. One of your best posts in a while. I love a good metaphor and this one is top notch. Certainly something to keep in mind as I try to prioritize all of the great ideas I’ve been overwhelmed with since Pioneer Nation! Thanks!

  • Joana says:

    I hope everything’s OK with you 🙂

    When I think of all the odd places where you’ve been during your worldwide travel adventure, and all the peculiar situations you got yourself into, always managing to sort it out, I’m sure that, whatever your domino issue is, you’ll find a way.

    Be good!

  • Dominique says:

    Beautiful. Thank you. Please let me know if you find a solution because it definitely applies to many of us I’d imagine!

  • Wendy Riches says:

    Oh, the dominoes. In our house, we call it the “finely stacked house of cards”. One of your kids gets sick, the dishwasher breaks, someone wants to reschedule an event, or all three happen at once (and you know they will!), and it all comes crashing down.
    When one of our cards (dominoes) gets dislodged, we revert back to survival mode, dealing with the most important and pressing issues and letting go of the rest until we’re operating at 100% again.
    But indeed it’s a struggle between wanting to keep all those domino stacked and being ok with doing just enough so you don’t have to revert to survival mode when (minor) disaster hits. Especially for us ambitious types 😉

  • Caelan Huntress says:

    This is the tragedy of the highly productive – just because we can get lots of shit done, we feel obligated to operate at maximum capacity.

  • Oliver says:

    Brilliant analogy Chris! Indicates quite well the fragility of this intricate construct we seem to stop properly working on at some point in our lives…

  • Michael Max says:

    Here’s something curious that I’ve noticed–

    Projects, or life for that matter, rarely go as planned. The really weird thing is when they do. And yet, in my mind I consider the moments gone askew as abnormal, when in fact–they are more the reality.

    And the moments that do unfold just as I planned. I fail to register those as unusual. I tend to think that is normal…even when it is anything but!

  • Bonnie says:

    Intense and vulnerable. Nice.

  • Vee says:

    Thank you Chris. This was a much needed and important reminder. I’m going to remove one domino right now and take a look at the blue sky and allow myself a leisure cup of coffee.

  • Anna says:

    Brilliant post, Chris. Great metaphor!
    You are right, we play that game dangerously, or rather unwisely. We spend an enormous amount of time and effort stacking the dominoes, but we stack them too close, trying to fit as many as we can. Watching them fall is fun in the game and tragic in real life.
    Being the “evangelists of the unconventional”, we need to be creative in positioning them differently, for which we have to slow down and rethink our whole life and reevaluate all we have and all we do.
    A better way is not always more efficient and more productive. The are lots of other factors in life that we tend to ignore.
    Now I’ll go back and read your post again. I really enjoyed it!

  • Laura says:

    In the last few weeks I’ve been stacking hard – covering extra tasks for an absent co-worker, jamming in a fun convention, doing the lion’s share of the housework, squeezing in time for my projects on top of that – until last week, when I suddenly got sick and had to spend four days in the hospital. I’m home now and for the last few days I had to force myself to not jam in housecleaning when I was supposed to be taking it easy. That hyper-productive mode is such a rush – until something goes wrong. Now I need to learn to build in breathing room and backups to allow for catastrophes.

  • Kjersten says:

    Great post. Thanks, Chris!
    When reviewing my accomplishments for the day/week/month/year, It’s useful for me to remember to include a section for unexpected challenges that I’ve worked through. These can be significant accomplishments, that I otherwise may miss because they are never on any official goal list. But recognizing them has always helped me to build my endurance muscles and sharpen my grit for all of my more official endurance related goals. It also helps me see a wider picture of unconventional skills I may be using: nimbleness, for example, or grace under pressure. If your dominoes get a bit derailed, I have no doubt you will do whatever you can to line them up again; that’s who you are. And lining them up again is an accomplishment worth noting.

  • Tim Grover says:

    Brilliant as always! Another analogy is to also make sure we don’t become an unwilling or unwitting domino in someone else’s line…squeezed in so tightly that we can’t step out & catch that blue sky.

  • Dezy says:

    Half way through I knew you’d written it for yourself because it had such passion. Your true strength is that you don’t take anything for granted but keep looking from all the angles at your situation and at the traps we fall into when complacent or possessed. Well done, Chris.

  • Nell says:

    Wake-up call. Thanks. Time to take out the lego 🙂

  • Erik says:

    Great post! I like how you admitted at the end that you wrote it for yourself. I looked up from my computer and out at the blue sky. A woman wearing a purple dress walked by at that moment, dyed red hair streaming in the wind.

  • Kathryn Cannon says:

    This post reminds me of a time when a very wise person told me I didn’t have to fret over being unable to focus on just one thing, that I’d never be a one track person.

    It was suggested that I stop thinking of myself as scattered and to consider all my projects as moving a line of peas across a table; move one pea forward and then another and eventually I’d have accomplished quite a bit. It’s relaxing to stay in the moment and focus on the highest priority “peas”.

    Later, at an art fair I saw someone had made a marble checkers set with semi-precious stone marbles and I upgraded my image from peas to pretty marbles. When one area is not looking so awesome, another one is doing just fine. It works for me.

  • Monique says:

    This is perfect timing, as I struggle with feeling that I have a stack but I’m failing to get shit done, because the dominoes aren’t behaving as I’d like them to. I want to get shit done. Then I look outside and realize I haven’t taken a walk in a while, or sat in the garden, or just had a day off. I feel torn between this drive to get shit done and to enjoy the time I have. I know we all do. Your post helped me realize that. Even the most accomplished people wonder about the stack and the people and projects in their lives that make up the stack. I think about it this way: without sacrifice the shit doesn’t get done. The question for me is: is the sacrifice worth it?

  • Amber says:

    I too, have too many dominoes and just not enough time. And two little boys who need my attention during the school holidays. Today, I’m leaving those dominoes for the day and we’re off to the drive-in to see The Lego Movie. The dominoes will wait another day, I’m sure of it. Then back to it we go, because if we want to be living the life of our dreams, then domino stack we must. Love to you. Hope your dominoes are still standing and waiting….

  • Nancy says:

    Somewhere along the line I received the message and internalized the idea that I proved my worth through stellar domino stacking. I also liked the praise I received for my unique variations on stacking. Eventually one fed the other. Lots of hard work has gotten me to a better place (for me).

    Great post, Chris. Thank you.

  • Maria J says:

    I feel soooo related!!! Thank you for a brilliant post!!
    it made me think a Lot!!!

  • Kathy says:

    Your post hits close to home. Thank you.

  • Christen says:

    I love this analogy. We put so much pressure on ourselves to do so much that it’s easy to think the problem is not getting enough done, when we really are doing so much! It’s just never ever enough for our perfectionism/workaholism/guilt. I’m taking this with me to continue to think about and pass on to help my clients and friends when they feel overwhelmed.

  • moom says:

    Personally, I have a lot of projects, some might work out and some might not. It’s a diversified portfolio. So, I don’t have the domino problem.

  • Alex Francisco says:


  • Olga says:

    The best thing I read this week. Thank you.

  • Mac says:

    Dear Chris, I understand what you mean, but unfortunately it is difficult to take dominoes out of the line – to stay with your metaphor – because than, the game does no longer work.
    I know that I want to do too much in the little time that I have, but how to decide who or what will come later – is quite a task by itself. And some (or a lot) of the dominoes are not even stacked by myself.
    So, for the time being I have just to follow through, and though it is really hard sometimes, life is still wonderful.

  • M. Catlett says:

    This is an awesome and important piece, you’ve written extremely well. In just a little bit, I’m going to get back to working on my entire table-top of dominoes, but right now I think I’ll go have some morning coffee outside.

  • Scott Asai says:

    That’s so true. The more you take on because you CAN, doesn’t always mean it’s the right move. Entrepreneurs usually leave a job because they’ve figured out a BETTER way to do it and are honestly bored. That being said, one of the main reasons why you wanted to be your own boss was FREEDOM, but sometimes we take on so much we become a slave to our schedules. It takes even more of a balancing act now that you don’t have anyone over you. Every once in a while we need to take a step back and re-evaluate what matters and figure out how we are spending our most valuable currency: TIME.

  • JAY IN NC says:

    Chris, I’ve read your blog for over a year. This is your most powerful message yet, and a beautiful piece of writing. Thank you.

  • Tobias Laemmle says:

    Wow, what a great post Chris!

    I stacked my dominoes so close together, some fell off the table. So the problem got solved by its own you could say. Unfortunately dominoes means real people so not the best solution to fix the problem.

  • binmann says:

    Thank you, what I needed…way to many dominoes to fit in…

  • Shylah says:

    This is amazing. I appreciate that it is ok to have a lot of dominoes as long as you like the pattern! Great post as always.

  • Nadja says:

    Frightening but true.

  • maggie dodson says:

    Yes, there is no beauty in the marketplace without a little bit of chaos.

  • LisaJ says:

    Excellent post. Now if only I knew the solution… 🙂

  • Avital says:

    Oh, I love this. I sometimes think about how time management in this way can be almost like living paycheck to paycheck without an emergency fund.

    Once, I had an issue with my car a few years back, and it decimated a week of my life because I had absolutely no time to schedule the appointments necessary to fix it.

    I’ve found having a time “emergency fund” – even if it’s just a half day a week set aside for nothing, comes in so so handy.

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